Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jailing Ourselves

Do Bars a Prison Feel - Should We Allow Public Safety to Make Us Feel Like We Are in Prison?

I recently took a survey for our public transit system that had its theme security on the system. They asked questions on what people thought might make patrons feel safer on the ALRT - Automated Light Rail Transit* - System. They also asked about issues of fare evasion. Currently when you get to our ALRT stations on the SkyTrain system (image on left - image from Wikipedia) there are no ticket takers, gates, or turnstiles to pass through on the way into the stations and up to the trains.

Many people get very grumbly about it thinking that there are too many people taking advantage of this and getting a free ride. In the survey results it seems that people think that out of every 100 people on the train at least 20 of them are fare evaders. Even when given the information that 80% of the people getting onto the train to ride are using some form of prepaid fare - either prepaid monthly passes, university passes (paid for by students through their fees), company passes paid through their employer or an employee payment plan, or by simple bus transfers from the buses of the transit system when the passengers switch over from bus to train - people still think that 20% or more are fare evaders. Go figure...

So one priority on many people's minds is some sort of gate or turnstile system to rebuff the freeloaders. Some reasons given are to save the lost revenue from so many fare evaders and others point out that criminal elements are simply walking onto the train to travel from point to point in the city and that putting up the gates and turnstiles will decrease this problem - after all no self respecting hoodlum or vandal will pay a transit fare to ride the train will they. (He writes sarcastically parroting what he has heard many times)

For me one of the great things about the SkyTrain was being able to embark from a bus walk without much in the way of obstruction into the station and up - or down - onto the platform to catch a train. To me it felt like being a part of the future. There were terminals to purchase your transit fare and there was a requirement to keep your fare receipt in case you would have to prove payment, but since most already had either payed on the bus they were transferring in from or were being dropped off by a spouse or coming in from the commuter parking with their passes, most did not require to pay at the machines.

They were starting on one very heavily travelled route in Vancouver that ran the articulated buses to allow entry and exit from all three sets of doors on the long bus coaches. It made for much quicker loading and unloading and shorter times at the busy stops on that route rather than restricing entry to the front door only.

But, given that people want to have some sort of gate, and all...

On the survey they showed 4 choices. (4 images below are from the survey for Translink done by Vision Critical)

Regular waist-high turnstile
This is what I am used to seeing at fairgrounds and that sort of thing. I have always found them a bit awkward to get through. I thought they would be a choice that disabled people wouldn't like, but according to the survey they have little problem with them. I am not sure though, perhaps it is because there is always a section with a chain across and an attendant to let them through? I don't know. I wouldn't want to pass through these with crutches or a wheel chair or while maneuvering a stroller, two wheeled grocery cart, or even suitcases or backpack through... or a fussing 2-year-old.

Paddle style gate
I am used to seeing this sort of thing, at least a one sided one at libraries, though this is more modern and I take it bidirectional and of course controlled by the ticket reading machine. I think it easier to get through with strollers, 2-year-olds, and so forth, but of course they would create bottlenecks like any of the options would during rush hour.

Bi-parting leaf gate/turnstile
This is a new take on that regular turnstile - I think - and perhaps easier to go through. Still I wonder how easy it would be for people who are not just travelling empty handed through the gate.

I have seen these at some fairs and zoos. They are a bit like the revolving doors in large buildings and I know the benefit in the large buildings is that they let people go in and out quickly without allowing either the warm air out in winter or the cool air out in summer. They always make me think they are dangerous... sort of like people-strainers. I think I watched too many violent cartoons in my childhood.

Of course these gates would be in place with the ticket readers just for people coming in, though there would also have to be one-way gates on the exits to keep folks from sneaking in the back way.

I can see negatives to these gates. One of them is that with transportation - aren't we trying to reduce bottlenecks? It is the places like bridges and tunnels where traffic backs up as well of course as accidents. Isn't creating additional bottlenecks for the people using "rapid"transit a bit counterproductive? Especially when trying to lure drivers out of their cars.

But that aside, and aside the discussion on whether it is necessary to catch the actual less than 7% who are fare evaders. There are the issues about whether the actual evaders will not simply jump the waist high gates or duck under them. That leaves the more intrusive floor to ceiling ones that should be a lot more restrictive.

I look at the floor-to-ceiling option and wonder if it just wouldn't give a cold "you are entering prison" feeling - and not the softer newer prison either. A lot of how people feel in the city has to do with impressions like this which lead to issues of pride and that leads to things like levels of graffiti and littering and indeed to that of increasing or decreasing crime. Some people think that such security gates will increase safety, but I have read that the career pickpockets who work in groups all have paid fare receipts in places such as Paris and London where they have such gates in place. That lineups created by bottlenecks are places which are just great for criminals for doing things like picking pockets. I imagine that someone who intends something serious like terrorism would surely be willing to spring for a one way bus ticket.

I think there probably better ways to cope with fare evaders than the gates - though they also are speaking about smart cards which I am not so sure on either. With the smart cards you would scan your card both entering and exiting both train and bus which seems a bit counter-productive to me.

~ Darrell

* No, our SkyTrain ALRT system isn't pulled by steam engines like the Hudson Class 4-6-4 CPR Empress, I just like to somehow tie my portrait for the articles with the theme of the article somehow. Our SkyTrain uses linear induction motors where the stator is built into the track and for the most part is elevated substantially above the ground. There are some stretches at grade and a tunnel and one underground section downtown. The newest line built in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics uses more conventional electric motors, but the next will be going for the linear induction motors. It also will have another long stretch underground.


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